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Origin of some N.C. and Va. Indian tribes

Indians in the eastern part of Virginia and North Carolina blended with African Americans:

Archer Bowmer, born about 1763, son of an Indian woman, registered in Halifax County, Virginia, in 1827: a dark mulatto...grey wooly hair, was born free.

Molly Cockran, an Indian woman born in the 1740s, had a son named Henry who registered in Goochland County, Virginia: a free man of color of Yellow complexion...short black curled born.

Daniel Coleman registered in Petersburg in 1798: a dark Brown Free Negro, or Indian...short bushy hair...formerly held as a slave by Joseph Hardaway but obtained his freedom by a judgment of the Gen'l Court in Nov. 1797.

The Indian tribes of the Eastern Shore of Virginia were part of the free African American population by the early nineteenth century. The Chowan Indians of North Carolina were "mixed with Negroes" by 1790.

What, then, is the origin of the myth of an "Indian race" that blended only with whites?

The concept of Indian tribes that mixed only with the white population had its beginning in Robeson County, North Carolina.

After the Civil War the former free persons of color voted for the same party as the former slaves: Republican. This made for an almost equal division between the Democrats and the Republicans in Robeson County [Blu, Karen, "The Lumbee Problem"]. In 1885 North Carolina passed a law sponsored by Hamilton McMillan, a Democrat from Robeson County, creating separate school districts for the former free persons of color of the county. McMillan invented the name "Croatan Indians" and theorized that they had descended from a friendly tribe of Indians on the Roanoke River in eastern North Carolina who had mixed with the whites in Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony in 1587.

Ten "Croatan Indian" school districts were created from districts which had formerly been "Colored." And a law was passed requiring that "all marriages between an Indian and a negro or between an Indian and a person of negro descent to the third generation, inclusive, shall be utterly void: Provided, This act shall apply only to the Croatan Indians." This swung many of their votes to the Democrats.

Thus, in the early part of the Jim Crow era, the Democrats solidified their position in the legislature and solved the problem of drawing racial lines in a county were they had been blurred. In 1900 the former slaves were disenfranchised and the "Croatan Indians" lost much of their political influence since the Republicans were no longer a factor in politics.

The 1885 law did not confer any benefits on the Indians--just made a division that created three castes in Robeson County: white, Colored and "Croatan Indian." Later, they would install three sets of water fountains, seating areas, rest rooms, etc.

The change of name from "mulattoes" to "Croatan Indians" did not change white attitudes toward them. Whites shortened the name to the pejorative "Crows." The name was changed to "Cherokee Indians of Robeson County" in 1913, "Siouan Indians of Lumber River" in 1934-1935, and was recognized by the U.S. Congress as Lumbee Indians in 1956.

The 1885 North Carolina bill changed the history of Indians in the Southeast. Anthropologist James Mooney included the Croatan Indians and other mixed-race communities in adjoining North and South Carolina counties in his studies of the Indian tribes of the Southeast in 1907, and Frank G. Speck travelled throughout the Southeast "discovering" lost tribes.

Other invented North Carolina Indian tribes followed: the Person County Indians, Sampson County Coharie, Halifax County Haliwa-Saponi, and Columbus County Waccamaw-Siouans. Virginia recognized two former free-person-of-color communities as the Nansemond and Monacan Indians. Modern-day lore has made the legislatures into models of racial tolerance for passage of these laws which helped to solidify Segregation.

Towards the end of the Civil War, several members of the mixed-race community in Robeson County were murdered by white vigilantes. Their relatives formed a band of men who exacted revenge on the murderers and remained at large for nearly ten years despite the determined efforts of the White Home Guard, federal troops, and huge rewards for bounty hunters. Their story is recounted in "The Swamp Outlaws" by a New York Herald reporter who visited the area in 1872. The origin of Robeson's free mixed-race community and a copy of "The Swamp Outlaws" can be viewed at: and


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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